How do we explain death to a four year old- a question whose answers vary from one house to the next. It’s a topic that has come up many a time at the lunch table in my classroom, and I’ve always been able to reroute it. “Be sure to go home and ask your parents,” I would tell them, and steer them into a new topic.
Now I’m the parent. Who has no parents. And ever since Mother’s Day, I’ve had a four year old asking some extremely piercing questions about it, and I no longer have the option to detour. Ok, fine. Deep breath. Tell the truth, but gently. Only answer direct questions, don’t volunteer anything. Keep it honest, but don’t scare her. Ready? You got this.
A little background info- I’ve always said they’re in heaven, along with some close friends and pets. She’s also suffered loss in her short life, and we’ve always been able to say how thankful we are that we have so many angels in heaven to look over us. That’s mostly it.
At some point, she figured out what a cemetery was, and now she’s curious about the body/spirit thing. As I’m preparing breakfast, she appears and states, “Your Mommy and Daddy’s spirits are in heaven,” I nod. A couple of hours later, “But their bodies are in the dirt, right Mama?” she inquires, and I simply say “Yes.” That one stung, because what I had said was “We give our bodies back to the earth,” but that’s where she went with it. Later on, I hear her playing in another room, telling her dolls how their spirits are going to leave them out of their heads so they can be dead. I stop listening, because although the educator in me knows this is normal, and I’m confident that my answers are appropriate, bringing all this stuff up to the surface for me is making my head spin and my heart heavy.
So here I sit, mourning those I’ve loved and lost on a random Sunday night. I’m feeling very tired, and very drained from the barrage of questions I’ve been fielding. I know at some point her curiosity will be satisfied, and I will be granted some reprieve. Then the next level of developmentally appropriate understanding will arrive, and I’ll have to brace myself again. In the meantime, I will enjoy the opportunities to reminisce, and I will share with her my gratitude for having had them in my life at all.
That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? xo